What Every Mom Needs to Teach Her Son About Rape

No mother sets out to raise a rapist.

This week a former Stanford University student athlete who was found guilty of three felonies including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object will be released from jail after serving three months of a six-month sentence.

As the mother of three sons, my thoughts turned to the perpetrator’s mother. I shudder to think of how soul crushing it is to be forced to come to terms with the fact that the son you raised has done such a violent and ugly thing to another human being.

Lessons from the Stanford rape case: what moms need to teach their sons

The facts are really not in dispute, the victim and the perpetrator met at a fraternity party where both drank to the point of intoxication and beyond. Some time later two Stanford University graduate students were biking when they saw the perpetrator on top of the unconscious victim, in the dirt behind a dumpster. At first they thought they were witnessing a consensual encounter but then realized that something was terribly wrong. The woman was motionless and unresponsive. When they moved to intervene, the assailant fled and the graduate students chased him and held him until police arrived.

Before the perpetrator was sentenced, the victim read a statement in which she explains to her attacker that it was he, not alcohol or the “rape culture” that assaulted her.

But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked…Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately…You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less.

She also explains to him that his is not the only life forever scarred by his actions,

Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice…

I looked up the perpetrator’s mother, but the only thing I could find was a shadowy picture of her walking into the courtroom on her son’s arm and a few flimsy details about her being involved in her son’s athletic career and the fact that she once worked as a nurse.

As I thought of her, I asked myself what is the lesson here for the mothers of sons and I think it is twofold.

As parents we need to worry less that our children will be among the exclusive four percent to get into an elite university such as Stanford and more about churning out young men with deep moral convictions who respect themselves and those around them. The victim calls on us to show men how to respect women and it would behoove us to heed that call. That includes being less accepting of behavior that is termed, “boys will be boys” behavior. Objectifying girls is never okay.

We also need to talk to our sons clearly and without equivocation about consent:

No is no. Unconscious is no. Semi-conscious is no. Maybe is no. I can’t decide is no. Life can be disappointing and confusing but still, no is always no. There is no part of no which means yes. No is not the opportunity to get someone to change their mind. No is a complete sentence. In fact, no is the end of the discussion. Anything after the word no is nonconsensual. Go home, walk away, sober up, find a friend, phone a friend, go get yourself insomnia cookies and a tall glass of cold milk.

Consent is YES. Yes, I want this. Yes, I am in control of myself. Yes, I understand what I’m doing. Yes, I understand what I’m saying and yes this is what I want to do right now.

We need to remind our sons that the women you spend time with are somebody’s daughter, sister or friend. Treat her the way you would want someone to treat your loved one. Sex is something to be shared, not taken. Taking does not make you macho-it makes you weak. Loving, nurturing and caring are the things that make a man strong.

Then we can send them out into the world and pray, because no mother sets out to raise a rapist.


Rape in College: What Parents Need to Know 

More By Helene Wingens:

6 Reasons Why Moms Cry When They Leave Their Kids at College 

Dear Parent Freshman, You Need to Know This About Your Student

Crushing Culture of Parental Expectations

What Moms of Grown Sons Want Them to Know 


About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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